How to Fill a Building Full of Tech and Startup People

815 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY - A former turn of the century era bank building that will soon house creative folks.

815 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY - A former turn of the century era bank building that will soon house creative folks.

So you just want these unprofitable companies paying rent in your space, but I'm the one footing the bill with my investment?  Humph!

In all seriousness, not only is it important for your bottom line to have a thriving investment ecosystem, but full time investors are the glue of entrepreneurial systems.  It's our job to meet with nearly everyone connected to the community--so we not only know lots of people who could take up these spaces, but we know who might run events, who might show up at events, and we can help connect you to the different stakeholders who want to see your space become a place.  

Plus, you might be tempted to do some investing into these companies as a means of drawing people to your building.  That's just as bad of an idea as me thinking I'm going to start developing real estate.  You do what you do and I'll do what I do.  

In a place like New York, many real estate families are major investors in venture capital funds.  That's a great strategic connection--because you've got an expert in your rolodex now that you can talk to about your space and the people in it.  They can help steer these companies to success because that's their job.  Plus, you can get insight from professionals on how these companies get built so you have a better understanding of the life cycle of your tenants.  

So there you have it.  May you all fill your buildings with thriving startup and creative communities!

Don't you just hate it when you own an old building made like no one makes buildings anymore in an up and coming area--and you've got no cool startupy/creative/tech tenants in it yet?  

I know, I know--we've all been there.  

Well, have no fear, I've got your solution right here.

Here's my "How to Fill a Building Full of Tech and Startup People" plan in five easy steps.

1) Decide whether or not the building, mostly because of its location, is going to be more suitable to freelancers or companies.  Generally, the rule of thumb is that the closer you are to other startup companies, the more attractive it will be to companies.  If you're a little further out, closer to a residential hub, you'll likely need to fill it with onesies and twosies--video editors, iPhone developers, smaller agencies.  These are the kind of folks that are really just working there as an alternative to working from home.  They're willing to pay a few hundred a month to have the discipline of not laying around all day in bed convincing themselves they're doing work.  

That is, unless you can find an anchor tenant.  This isn't easy and you have to be creative about finding it.  Livestream picked up its whole company and moved from Tribeca to Bushwick--all 80 of its employees.  So, I can't say it's never been done, but you gotta have great timing and be a little lucky.  I'm sure it didn't hurt that a lot of the company's staff actually lived near that office.  

The freelancers vs. companies thing is going to be really important as you figure out how to divide up the space and what the typical office size will be.  You can always knock down walls if your onesie and twosie agencies grow, but no one ever likes to have to build new walls to make tiny offices, so I'd say if you're not sure, start out smaller.  

2) Figure out what kinds of entities are going to be a net draw to the building.  A video editor generally doesn't bring clients in, nor do they leave their station too often.  They're a push when it comes to traffic.  A sales team will likely be a net negative for traffic--always out at a client and leaving their desks empty.  Venture capital firms, on the other hand, draw people in.  Startups tend to go to the money--so if someone was giving out money, they'll likely bring people in.

When I was camping out in the Ace Hotel back in 2009 before First Round had an office, I took meetings with 3-5 people a day, 4-5 days a week, for 7 months.  That's literally a draw of over 500 people just to my one.  If just a small percentage of those people picked their head up and found that space to be interesting, you'd wind up with a lot of conversions.  I experience that in my Gowanus office for Brooklyn Bridge Ventures.  I can't tell you how many people realize they've been in the neighborhood before to play shuffleboard, or are surprised about how easy it was to get to from wherever they were.  It opens their eyes to the idea of being out here for work.  

Media production, like livestreaming or podcasting, could be a brilliant addition to a space.  If you hooked someone up with a space to stream, they could be doing interviews all day with influencers--and that would give those folks a reason to come visit your space.  Everyone loves free high quality production self-promotion.  If someone is willing to interview me, I'll show up at your space.

Obviously, events are a net draw as well.  Informative class sessions, interviews, panels, are all ways to bring people in.  You could run them yourself, or make it known to local meetups that your space is available for those looking to bring people in.

You might even look to tenants that are schools--like a code school or General Assembly-like entity, whose business it is to draw people in.  Some of their graduates might even become tenants. 

3) If you have a big space, WeWork will undoubtedly make an offer to run part of it for you.  I don't have a strong opinion on this one.  It's easy and tempting to get them to fill a big chunk of a space.  You have to decide whether or not their economic deal is for you.  I will say that I'm not so sure that anyone would really go far out of their way to choose WeWork over a well-run, friendly, well built alternative.   There are plenty of one-off coworking spaces that people like and enjoy because of a convenient locale that people are willing to come work at.  So, this is more of an economic decision than anything else.  They're awesome at what they do, but they don't have to be the only choice.

What coworking does is that it solves an interface problem.  For years and years, to get into a commercial building, you had to own a fax machine, carrier pigeon, and deal with the two fighting brothers who own the building, neither of whom has an e-mail address.  It was a mess.  Coworking is the easiest way for people to get into a building without having to speak to humans on a phone--and like Seamless, they're willing to pay extra to avoid that headache.  Whether you choose to go with coworking or not, you need that easy interface--standard contracts, easy appointment booking, quick turnarounds, and transparent pricing.  

4) Food is incredibly important.  This includes coffee.  Great coffee.  Food brings communities together and is a major factor in terms of someone's enjoyment of a work situation--especially startup and creative tenants.  The best idea in my mind is a food court.  There are tons of small food entrepreneurs who can't afford a big retail space--or who would love to add on a small footprint in a high traffic area.  If you give people a diversity of options around a food court, they won't mind eating in that same spot everyday.  If you rotate out some of the options as part of a regular thing, it gives local food blogs and the vendors themselves a reason to continually announce what's going on in your space.  It will also draw people in from the outside.  On a per square foot basis, small vendors wind up paying a pretty penny but still do quite well in a high traffic food court.  

Food can also be kept open later and it's important not to have these spaces be dead at night.  Creative types want a vibrant after work experience as well.

5) Don't be an island.  One of the reasons why Dumbo became a thing was because David Walentas bought nearly a dozen buildings in the same area--enabling the design of a neighborhood through sweetheart deals with storefront retail.  Instead of just going to one building, people were attracted to visiting a neighborhood of bookstores, restaurants, etc.  You may own just the one building, so you need to make friends with your neighbors.  Who are the five or six or twenty other establishments and owners that you can bring together to do comarketing of the entire neighborhood--street fairs, discounts, events, etc.  The more the merrier.  

Along these lines, make it someone's job to form these connections.  You're not going to do it.  You have a day job, and you suck at blogging and Twitter and all that.  A great community manager makes those connections, leads with their brand, and highlights others.  No one wants to hear them talk about their building all the time, but others will be more than interested to hear the stories of who is in the building and the neighborhood.  

BONUS: Make friends with investors!

So you just want these unprofitable companies paying rent in your space, but I'm the one footing the bill with my investment?  Humph!

In all seriousness, not only is it important for your bottom line to have a thriving investment ecosystem, but full time investors are the glue of entrepreneurial systems.  It's our job to meet with nearly everyone connected to the community--so we not only know lots of people who could take up these spaces, but we know who might run events, who might show up at events, and we can help connect you to the different stakeholders who want to see your space become a place.  

Plus, you might be tempted to do some investing into these companies as a means of drawing people to your building.  That's just as bad of an idea as me thinking I'm going to start developing real estate.  You do what you do and I'll do what I do.  

In a place like New York, many real estate families are major investors in venture capital funds.  That's a great strategic connection--because you've got an expert in your rolodex now that you can talk to about your space and the people in it.  They can help steer these companies to success because that's their job.  Plus, you can get insight from professionals on how these companies get built so you have a better understanding of the life cycle of your tenants.  

So there you have it.  May you all fill your buildings with thriving startup and creative communities!